The public policies driving America’s leading solar states

Today we released Lighting the Way 4, our fourth annual installment of reports on the states with the most solar energy, and the public policies that have helped them get there. Once again, the evidence is clear: The states with the most solar capacity aren’t necessarily those with the most sunshine – they are the states that have adopted policies to make it easy and affordable for people, businesses and utilities to “go solar.”

These policies include net metering, which guarantees owners of solar power systems a fair return for the excess electricity they supply to the grid; interconnection standards, which simplify the process of connecting solar panels to the grid; allowance of third-party ownership, which lets solar owners avoid the up-front cost associated with “going solar;” and renewable electricity standards, which set minimum renewable energy requirements for utilities, sometimes with a specific requirement for solar energy.

This year’s report shows that many states are making exciting progress:

  • California, which recently extended its net metering policy, added more than 3 gigawatts of solar electricity capacity in 2015 – more than the cumulative solar capacity of any other state.;
  • Although not yet a top 10 state, Utah’s solar capacity grew 14-fold from 2014 to 2015, with the addition of from 11 new utility-scale solar plants;
  • Backed by strong solar policies, two small northeastern states, New Jersey and Massachusetts, now rank fourth and sixth respectively for cumulative state solar capacity.

To speed America’s transition to clean, renewable energy, much more needs to be done. States with strong existing solar markets need to resist any efforts to slow the growth of solar energy. Nevada – which now holds the number one ranking for solar capacity per capita – could see solar growth slow as a result of its elimination of retail net metering and increase in charges on solar customers in 2015, in part due to the efforts of its biggest utility, NV Energy. And many of the states that aren’t in the top 10 have lots of catching up to do; the top 10 solar states have more than 15 times the average per capita solar capacity of the rest of America.

The good news is that continuing the solar boom isn’t rocket science – it just takes listening to the public and standing up to the powerful utilities and fossil fuel companies that are seeking to undermine solar energy. In 2015, California policymakers resisted utility efforts to roll back net metering, and did so with the knowledge that polling has shown solar energy is the most popular energy source in the country. And for states that have catching up to do, the policy pathway is no secret: By implementing the basic suite of policies covered in Lighting the Way, states can dramatically increase their reliance on solar energy.

Solar energy brings enormous benefits to the environment, consumers, public health and the economy. The technology is ready, and prices are falling. But it will take a sustained effort from policymakers and the public to make sure that the solar boom continues, and that America stays on its path toward a future of 100 percent clean, renewable energy.